Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Back in the early fifties Martha D. Beck and Ray Fernandez were engaged in one hell of a sordid love affair which resulted in the answering of so-called Lonely Heart ads and resulted in the deaths quite a few people, including a two year old girl.  Needless to say, by the time they were caught, this caused quite a sensation back in the day as the two were termed the ‘Lonely Heart Killers’ and became all the rage of tabloid papers around the country.  Obviously something as twisted as this is not going to slip past the Hollywood movie machine for long as no less than four films have been made with this story at its center.  Now it is director Todd Robinson’s turn in his new film ‘Lonely Hearts’, and though the film certainly has its moments, the real stories of Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez are far more interesting than what this film has to offer.

Ray Fernandez (Jared Leto) is a hustler to his heart, answering the ads of lonely women placed in newspapers throughout the country, schmoozing them with his slick typing word play, meeting them and wooing them with his toupee assisted good looks, then fleecing them for all they’re worth.  During one of these hustle sessions he runs into the lovely Martha Beck (Salma Hayek), who looks like she may have a few bucks to work with, and tells him as such.  Ray beds her down in a hotel room, steals her government check, and proceeds about his merry way to continue his present hustle.  This hustle turns bad for Ray as he is exposed for the fraud that he is while trying to fleece a widow at her husbands’ funeral, but who’s there to save his ass?  Why it’s Martha, who knew what Ray was about all along.  Martha it turns out is one severely damaged cookie, and Ray isn’t exactly playing with a full deck either.  If two people should have never gotten together, it was this pair, who proceed to steal, murder, and fleece, unsuspecting women for the next year, while abusing and loving each other in the process.

On the other side of legal pad is John Travolta as Elmer Robinson, a haggard, broken down New York police detective.  Robinson, along with his partner Charles Hildebrandt (James Gandolfini) is relentlessly investing one of the murders as it has exposed a raw nerve within him in relation to his late wife who has taken her own life.  A lot of time is spent examining the down spiral of detective Robinson’s life, his extremely strained relationship with his son Eddie (Daniel Byrd) and his secretive relationship with the police dispatcher, Rene (Laura Dern).

Recognize that ‘Lonely Hearts’ is more of a work of fiction with a basis on true events than an actual True Crime film.  The things that work in ‘Lonely Hearts’ work very well, such the atmosphere that Robinson and his crew were able to create and the authentic feel of the given time period.  The killers portrayed by Hayek and Leto as they were presented, were certainly vile, villainous and damn near sub human.  Hayek in particular imbues this particular interpretation of Martha Beck with a manipulative and controlling flair which never causes the viewer to question why Fernandez would bend to her string pulling wills.

The story of the killers themselves was interesting, but the branching story of the investigating police officers and his tattered personal life was less so.  It just felt like these two divergent tales just didn’t belong together in this film.  I personally could have cared less about Elmer Robinson’s sex life with the police dispatcher, or the fact he has a bad relationship with his son, or that he needs a new car.  I understand that it’s meant to give substance, drive and motivation to the character, but a police officer finding a woman murdered in her bathtub (suicide actually, but driven to it) and wanting to do his job to find out what happened would been enough for me.  John Travolta is fine actor no doubt and his presentation of Elmer Robinson was very good, I just thought it was unnecessary.  Ultimately it took away from the natural flow of the film and slowed things down in a movie that wasn’t moving all that fast to begin with.

And though it’s not a problem with the movie itself, in reality Martha Beck was reported to be an unattractive obese woman, which obviously Salma Hayek is not.  Any opportunity to see Ms. Hayek wisp across the screen is one I’m not going to turn down, but it would have been more interesting, in my humble opinion, to see an accurate representation of Beck and Fernandez and a dramatization of their actual relationship as it was WAY sicker than what was presented in this film.  Plus wouldn’t it have been more of challenge for Hayek to have played an insecure, desperate overweight slob that they could have stuck fifty pounds on instead of a svelte, insanely sexy manipulator.  The woman can act you know, she could have pulled it off.

‘Lonely Hearts’ wasn’t a bad a film but it seemed as if it could have been more considering the awesome look of the film and the outstanding acting talent involved.  A bit of disappointment, but not a waste of time for anyone interested in these kinds of films.

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